“Sometimes I accept that I have to be an instrument of change – and people don’t like change,” says 16-year CIO veteran at Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP, Janet Day, who explains her biggest challenge is keeping on top of the geographic footprint of the law firm’s global portfolio.
“I’m trying to manage to ensure that we don’t get disrupted ourselves,” she says. “The big challenge a firm like this faces is as your geographic footprint increases, you have to work in an increasingly 24-hour available cycle.
“Once I could grab systems at 2am on a Saturday morning and have them for three hours, and nobody would notice.
“You learn to be quite different to in your approach to system management and system availability.”
BLP has over 850 solicitors working across 11 countries, with Day at the technology helm since 1997 having arrived a year earlier as a consultant.
“Your clients come from an increasingly global base and we’re becoming an increasingly global enterprise, and the challenge I now have is making the right information only available to the right people in the right place at the right time,” she says.
“It’s incredibly easy to make all the information available everyone. What’s much more tricky is to put barriers on bits of information that secure it in a way which is appropriate.
“It’s about the right data at the right time in the right place for the right person, but it’s also about an increasingly diverse user population wanting to approach accessing the data differently.”
Collaboration and document comparison
Day, a biochemistry graduate with a background in HR, said that she believes technology has enabled lawyers to work in a more efficient and collaborative way, and that it fits in with her philosophy of removing the barriers which can cause mistakes and make people perform tasks incorrectly.
“I’ve always thought that if you make it really hard for somebody not to do something right, they’ll do it correctly because it’s harder not to,” she says.
“If you spend your life trying to make it easy for somebody to do something, that can sometimes be the wrong way of tackling the problem.”
Day said that BLP has been a customer of Workshare – enterprise software product winners at our sister title Techworld’s 2013 Awards – for 15 years, using their document comparison tool to save the firm of time when editing documents and lengthy contracts.
“Lawyers might need to be confrontational with regards to making a point,” she said, “but the rest of the time they need to be collaborative for things to move forwards and it has smoothed the path of obstacles to do this.”
BLP also uses Workshare’s metadata stripper, which is embedded within the firm’s document management environment and used heavily at user access points. Day said that since lawyers frequently re-use documents and clauses due to legal precedent, you can strip the subtext of a document including its source code, original author, and the edits made.
There have been some very public situations where ‘lost’ documents have contained very damaging metadata, including a London Borough Council publishing hidden sensitive data related to 2,375 residents in an Excel document – eventually costing them £70,000 in fines.
Travelling lawyers are using a myriad of devices, Day explained, but in the office the norm is a thin-client terminal with no intelligence that looks at your virtual environment.
“Lots of people make use of iPads; almost entirely as a consumption device,” she said.
“Most legal documents are highly formatted so you can read them comfortably. You can annotate and use tools that lets you do this but doesn’t alter the core document – you’re effectively adding electronic yellow stickers.
“I would never recommend that anybody edits a document on an iPad – that’s just catastrophically dangerous.”
If the firm supplies the device, Day says, it’s a Windows device and they have a number of Surface tablets in their environment. Other tools which staff supply themselves are allowed to become part of the active directory group – although Day and BLP add software which allows them to wipe or delete corporate data remotely in case that tool is lost or compromised.
“I haven’t had to do this yet however,” she said. “Funnily enough I find that when people own their own device they tend to be far more careful with them.”
Nokia and BlackBerry
BLP supplies Nokia smartphones to its staff, which Day said “has a better security setup”. Some are still using BlackBerrys “because they are married to the keyboard, and I carry both because I quite like to know that all of my operating environments work.
“But we’re slowly moving away from them when it comes to new devices,” she said, echoing what Cushman & Wakefield CIO John McKeown told us at the end of 2013 – another professional services firm also moving away from the troubled Canadian mobile devices supplier.
Day, who completed an MBA in 1993 specialising in competitive advantages in the legal profession, is a proud technologist and gadget fan, using an iPad Mini, Microsoft Surface Tablet, iPad and Android device.
“I accept that I like shiny toys, but I find now if I’m travelling for 24-48 hours I wouldn’t take anything other than the iPad Mini because if I’m going to one of our international offices I can sit down at one of the terminals there and log on to their virtual environment.”
BLP virtualised its entire desktop infrastructure 18 months ago in preparation for the London 2012 Olympics, a dual project during which Office 2010 was also rolled out at the same time.
“For lots of my people it means the idea of travelling with their laptops is an anathema.
“Our first ‘snow day’ after implementing desktop virtualisation and flexible working I commented to our managing partner we had 487 people online working outside the office.
“We have a raft of people working continually from home and we get virtually no more calls to the help desk than on any normal working day, because essentially once you work in a virtual environment it’s the same.
“We all live very complex lives now as individuals so anything that can help manage that complexity by enabling you to work differently or more flexibly mean that it’s just a touch easier than having to rigidly do things a certain way.”